How Living Abroad Made a Difference for Ebony Hargro

Ebony Hargro grew up curious about the world and passionate about one day making it a better place through a career focused on human rights and diplomacy.

“I’ve always been acutely aware of how identities impact people,” she says.

As a student at Duke University, Hargro sought an undergraduate study abroad program that would help her make career connections at the United Nations while exploring social justice issues.

She found what she was looking for in the Switzerland: International Relations and Multilateral Diplomacy program from School for International Training (SIT), an accredited institution that offers semester and summer undergraduate study abroad programs as well as globally focused graduate degrees. SIT is part of the World Learning Inc. family.

Based in Geneva, Switzerland — a global hub for international organizations such as the United Nations and Red Cross — the SIT program brings students into the room with decision makers for real-world learning opportunities. Hargro learned about international security and terrorism from UN officials working on those issues and had the chance to ask them questions about their career paths when she went on the program in fall 2016.

“It really showed me the true face of diplomacy and not just what you see if you look up careers online,” she says.

Hargro came away with an appreciation for the work of the UN — and the realization that she wants to work at a more grassroots level.

“I would like to be working alongside communities and not decision making for communities,” she says. “I think that was a really useful discovery from this program.”

Beyond offering valuable insight into her chosen field, Hargro’s SIT experience also helped her build her ability to communicate across cultures and work independently.

Hargro gained deeper insights into her host community through her homestay with a French-speaking family and school assignments that encouraged her to talk with locals. For one assignment, she spoke with Swiss natives about their country’s policy of neutrality during times of global conflict.

“Learning more about how the locals interpret neutrality was really interesting,” she says. “They had perspectives I had never been exposed to, so, while I didn’t necessarily agree with them, it did widen my understanding of what Switzerland is all about.”

Another hallmark of the SIT Study Abroad experience is the Independent Study Project (ISP), which students complete at the end of each term.

“That was a really big period of growth for me,” Hargro says.

For her ISP, Hargro took advantage of her host country’s position as the chocolate capital of the world for a research project on child labor in the cocoa industry. She interviewed corporate responsibility officers for companies like Hershey and Nestlé to find out about their practices to mitigate child labor. Though SIT staff was there to offer advice, Hargro was on her own to design and carry out the project.

“That was a level of independence I’d never had before abroad,” she says. “What made this program stand out was that I was able to guide myself. I was forced to swim in a really great way with a lot of support.”

This past summer, Hargro passed on that wisdom as an adult group leader for The Experiment in International Living, a cultural exchange program for high school students that is also administered by World Learning Inc. Hargro, who is now 22, led a group of 14 students across France for four weeks as part of The Experiment’s French Language & Culinary Training program.

Alongside her co-leader Caroline Neal, Hargro was responsible for most of the on-the-ground logistics and decision making throughout the trip. These tasks ranged from ensuring all the students made it onto public transportation together to caring for the needs of students who fell sick or homesick and moderating the group’s nightly debates on where to grab dinner.

“As a co-leader, you have to be able to anticipate that at least two things will go wrong each day and you have to be flexible,” Hargro says. She and Neal had to work together to find solutions, like taking an earlier bus to ensure the group arrived at their cooking school on time despite everyday delays on public transportation.

That flexibility, Hargro notes, can be especially challenging when you’re traveling abroad in a country with different customs and a different language. But Hargro’s semester with SIT Study Abroad prepared her well. It forced her outside her comfort zone as she conducted interviews in French with professionals and conducted her own research.

“That really taught me how to get things done in a different country,” she says. “I’m able to think on my feet, respond quickly, and get what I need for the students.”

For Hargro, serving as an Experiment group leader was the perfect way to carry forward the mentorship work she had done in college by helping younger people discover the world just as she did. Throughout the trip, she bonded with her students and offered them advice for their careers, personal lives, and the trip itself, encouraging them to absorb everything they could in the moment.

“I will take out of this program the same thing,” she says. “I’m still learning to be mindful and present in the moment.”

Hargro is now settled into her first full-time post-university job at an “insurtech” firm, which uses technology to improve the insurance industry, but there’s no doubt she’ll be headed abroad again soon.

“I really do believe in the abroad experience,” Hargro says. “I would encourage everyone who has even a remote interest in it because there’s a lot of growth that happens.”